House's last votes about messaging, not laws

AP News
Posted: Aug 01, 2013 6:06 PM
House's last votes about messaging, not laws

WASHINGTON (AP) — Forget the last-minute deals of years past and the huge pile of undone business.

The Republican-led House is spending the last days before Congress' five-week summer vacation on bills aimed at rousing the party's conservative base but with little chance of become law: The "STOP IRS Act." The "Stop Government Abuse Act." And the "Regulations in Need of Scrutiny Act."

Before they leave Friday, House members will for the 40th time vote on a GOP measure to effectively repeal Obama's health care overhaul.

The last-minute flurry of politically themed bills is a sharp contrast to two years ago, when Congress scrambled to finish a deficit-reduction bill that set in place more than $2 trillion in spending cuts over the following decade. This year, House Republicans are content with messaging after getting their way on a student loan bill but falling short in trying to carry out further spending cuts in highway and housing programs.

"It's sort of the political equivalent of visiting some place and bringing back a T-shirt," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. "These bills say, 'I've been there, I've done something and here's a T-shirt.'"

Democrats were less charitable.

"It is politics at any cost by the Republican majority," said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich. "They want to change the subject."

On these measures, congressional approval isn't the point.

Several of this week's House bills dredged up past controversies or perceived failings of the Obama administration. One was a twofer: The "Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act" would repeal Obama's health care overhaul while invoking the name of the scandal-tainted Internal Revenue Service. The bill would stop the IRS from putting in place any part of the health care law. It's scheduled for a vote on Friday.

The IRS is getting ample floor time among the bills, reminders of the controversy surrounding the agency's targeting of conservative political groups. The "STOP IRS Act" passed on Wednesday would terminate any IRS employees who "take official actions for political purposes." No IRS employee, at least so far, has been found to have done that in investigations into the extra scrutiny that the agency devoted to tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Another bill, titled the "Stop Playing on Citizens' Cash Act" or "SPOCC" Act, would prohibit the tax agency from spending money on employee conferences until it carries out reform recommendations from its inspector general. The bill's title references a widely criticized "Star Trek"-themed video costing more than $50,000 and produced by some IRS employees featuring the TV series' iconic character Mr. Spock.

A "Government Spending Accountability Act" is designed to remind voters of the troubles at the General Services Administration, the government's property manager whose top managers resigned after an inspector general report last year revealed lavish agency spending on a Las Vegas conference. The bill would cap non-military government travel spending.

The "Regulation From Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act," or the REINS Act, sponsored by Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., would require Congress to give final approval before any major new federal regulations are put in place. It gets a vote Friday. The White House issued a veto threat, calling it a "radical departure from the longstanding separation of powers" doctrine in the Constitution.

Three previously introduced bills were combined this week into a "Stop Government Abuse Act." Passed Thursday, it would limit federal bonuses through 2015, specifically allow citizens to record most conversations with federal employees and give agencies more leeway to put employees under investigation on unpaid leave.